Prose in the nude: Canadian authors get naked for Bare It For Books calendar

National Post
February 19, 2013

It’s often said that authors bare their souls on the page. Now, some of Canada’s most successful writers are baring a little bit more for charity.

Bare It For Books is the brainchild of Allegra Young, a classical music producer, and Amanda Leduc, an author who first proposed a calendar featuring Canadian authors in the buff on Twitter this past summer.

“It’s a risky venture,” Leduc says. “A naked calendar isn’t something that you see everyday.”

Young was the first of many to enthusiastically support the project, and the two soon met over coffee to hash out the idea. They came up with a list of dream participants, and, this past September, sent an email blast to roughly 100 authors, unsure of what to expect.

“Within half an hour of sending the initial wave of emails out, we had people coming back to us saying this is a really great idea and I’d love to participate,” says Leduc, whose novel The Miracles of Ordinary Men comes out in May. Recalls Young: “We were astounded by the response we got. We right away had more than 12 people.”

The inaugural Bare It for Books calendar, which will be officially announced Tuesday, features past winners of the Giller Prize, the Booker Prize, the Journey Prize, the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and CBC’s Canada Reads. The authors who will doff their clothes are Angie Abdou, Trevor Cole, Farzana Doctor, Dave Bidini, Miranda Hill, Daniel MacIvor, Yasuko Thanh, Terry Fallis, Sachiko Murakami, Vincent Lam, Saleema Nawaz and Yann Martel.

“I figure they gave me August because so many Canadians are away on vacation that month,” says Fallis, whose latest novel, Up and Down, was published in September. “I think that’s probably for the best.”

He says appearing in the calendar was an easy decision to make because all proceeds will go to PEN Canada, an organization that supports freedom of expression in Canada and around the world. “I don’t get naked for just anything, but PEN Canada can get me pulling my clothes off,” he says.

Lam, the calendar’s Mr. October, says when he first received the email from Leduc and Young he thought it was a hoax. But the more he thought about the project, the more it appealed to him not only as a charitable cause but as an artistic statement.

“The first thing one thinks is, ‘Wow, that’s really putting myself out there,’ ” says Lam, author of The Headmaster’s Wager. “And the reason I think that is so interesting is that the specific writers whom PEN supports are people who really, really put it out there. These are people who risk their personal safety — the well-being of themselves as well as their families — in order to write. To do the work that we do as writers in an environment where it is politically and physically dangerous to do so is actually to be far more vulnerable than I am, for example, when I decide to post tastefully nude for a calendar.”

Plus, he adds, “As a writer, putting what is in the deep, dark recesses of my creative heart on paper and publishing it is already way more naked than some images of me could ever be.”

The Bare It For Books calendar will be unveiled in October; in advance, Young and Leduc have launched a fundraising campaign to cover production and printing costs. They hope to raise at least $20,000, although the calendar will be produced “no matter what,” Young says. In any case, the photo shoots have already begun. Trevor Cole recently welcomed a photographer into his home, where he posed with a strategically placed shovel, a nod to his most recent novel, Practical Jean.

“I think people are hungry for opportunities to have fun in this industry,” he says. “This is a really great way to show that we all have a sense of humour.”

Since more than a dozen authors offered to disrobe for the 2014 calendar, Young and Leduc are already looking ahead to 2015. As one literary critic told them, “There are two things that every writer, deep down, is always game for, and that is getting drunk and getting naked.”

© 2013 National Post